Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Joel, Noel and Jahlil Conundrum

Over the past few seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have been a headline story in the NBA for a laundry list of the wrong reasons. This all started with the hiring of Sam Hinkie from a Houston Rockets organization that turned years of mediocrity and back end lottery picks into James Harden. Sam Hinkie brought his analytical team building to the organization that believed that drafting the best player available over team need was the best way to put a championship team together.

Going into the 2013 draft, without even a coach hired, Sam Hinkie turned Jrue Holiday into an already injured Nerlens Noel and what ended up becoming foreign-born Dario Saric and his fingerprint was quickly put on this team. In 2014, Hinkie went on to draft another injured big man in Joel Embiid and the next year, in 2015, saw him drafting a healthy big man for a change in Jahlil Okafor. Although these three men, when healthy, would all be considered to be a starting center, especially in today's NBA of the stretch fours, Sam Hinkie stuck to his theory of best player available. With the pre-existing injuries to Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, it was no guarantee that either player would come back to have a long healthy career. This is where this season becomes so frustrating for Philadelphia 76ers fans.

From left to right: Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid.
(Photo Courtesy: Mitchell Leff - Getty Images Sport)


Without Sam Hinkie around, who brought this team to the NBA basement to finally get their hands on some serious assets, like their three big men, Saric and the recent number one overall pick, Ben Simmons, the organization finds themselves with 3 men who may not ever be able to co-exist with one another on the court but they are all talented enough to make some sort of impact for a contending team in the future. The dilemma that comes with this big man situation is the long-term health of what is considered the best of the bunch in Joel Embiid. Joel Embiid has superstar potential and could be exciting to watch playing alongside to future star playmaker in Ben Simmons. The problem with Embiid is that he missed his first two seasons in the NBA due to right foot issues and foot issues seem to become reoccurring with big men throughout their career.

If Embiid’s foot injuries do not come back to haunt him year after year, then the 76ers are in good shape, but if they cause him to lose whole seasons and shorten his care, this is where the actual problem lies. The big issue is that the better compliment player to Joel Embiid is likely Nerlens Noel, due to him not needing to have the ball in his hands to be effective and allowing Embiid to be a force on offense, whereas the better player between Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor is almost definitely Jahlil Okafor. Okafor, though lacking on the defensive end, could be a special player on the offensive end which could be a difference maker that doesn’t come along that often, compared to Noel’s defensive abilities that he will likely want to be overpaid for in order to stay in Philadelphia.

Trading away Jahlil prematurely would leave the team with Nerlens Noel as the only option if Joel Embiid cannot stay healthy. Okafor can become an offensive force in this league and it would almost definitely come back to haunt the 76ers knowing that their new young superstar in Ben Simmons is more playmaker than scorer and leaving him out there with no one that can put the ball in the basket could also stunt his growth. To make matters worse in this Joel, Noel or Jahlil dilemma is that the 76ers also has a young unknown in Richaun Holmes sitting on the end of the bench with athleticism, defensive prowess and shot blocking ability of his own that could mirror Nerlens to a lesser extent but at a much lower price tag. Holmes may be able to develop into a nice player to have off of the bench but he cannot seem to get any minutes due to this logjam.

Over the past few seasons, Philadelphia 76ers fans have had to show patience with this organization and unfortunately, they will have to while this whole situation plays out. The 76ers need to spend some time, waiting and seeing if Joel Embiid can stay healthy as well as give Embiid and the soon-to-be returning Ben Simmons time to gel on the floor with one another. This team is still a few years away from contending and the long game is what they should be playing, even if that means losing any pre-existing trade value for Nerlens or Jahlil. They need to do their due diligence in what is the best combination to go forward with this team and that will take time.

In all honesty, the 76ers are doing the correct thing with how they are handling this situation, not just for their own sake, but also from the receiving compensation for either player because the minute that they drafted Jahlil Okafor, any trade leverage they had with receiving fair value for any of the three big men went out the window. Other NBA franchises are not na├»ve, they know that eventually the 76ers have to budge and make a decision. They know that the 76ers cannot pay all three men the money they will all eventually ask for on their next contract. If the 76ers could get what they consider equal and fair value for either Noel or Okafor, I am sure they would have at least explored it at this point but that just won’t happen. Even without Sam Hinkie, it is time now, more than ever, to see how this plays out in the long-term and trust the process.

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